Saturday, September 28, 2013

3 Key Plays - VT vs. Georgia Tech

With the kickoff of the ACC season, it's time to bring back our world famous segment - 3 Key Plays. These are the plays that made the difference in the game in the Hokies 17-10 victory on Thursday night.

1) With 12:28 left in the 1st quarter, facing 2nd and 4, the Hokies capitalized on a fumble by throwing a crossing route to DJ Coles (who hung on!!!) and he took care of the rest, dashing into the end zone. This score gave the ferocious Hokie defense the lead and really set the tone for the game. It was a well-executed passing play and it was a WORLD of difference between being held to a FG and scoring a TD after creating that turnover. Big play.

2) With 3:34 left in the 3rd quarter, the Hokies had Georgia Tech in 3rd and goal from the 10 yd line. The ball had been on the 1, but the defense had moved the Yellow Jackets back to the 10. A terrible, floaty pass to the end zone by Vad Lee provided an easy interception opportunity for Detrick Bonner. However, Bonner had other plans, deciding to run up the back of the receiver and sit there for 2 seconds while the ball fluttered toward them and then knocked the ball down. Even though he was beaten on other routes, it was clearly his worst play of the game. Instead of a pick, ending the GT scoring threat, or at least stepping in front of the receiver to force a FG attempt, he was flagged for pass interference and the Jackets converted on the next play to cut the lead to 14-10.  Awful play and it made the game a lot closer than it should have been.

3) 8:24 mark of the 4th quarter and the Jackets, trailing 17-10, have a 4th and 2 at their own 33 yd line. Instead of punting it and letting their defense (which destroyed the Hokies in the 2nd half) squash the Hokie offense, Coach Paul Johnson decided to go for it. DT Derrick Hopkins, who played like an impostor of Ndamukong Suh the entire night, blew up the inside handoff to RB David Sims and stuffed the play short of the 1st down. The Hokies would miss a chippie FG that would have iced the game, but they ran the clock down another 3 minutes and kept GT pinned deep.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Game Review - VT vs Western Carolina

In beating Western Carolina 45-3, the Hokies had their best team performance since last season's 37-0 win vs. Bowling Green. But there were some huge differences which provide me a much greater sense of optimism coming out of this ballgame than I felt after the Bowling Green game last season.

If you think back to that Bowling Green game last season, the Hokies basically needed Logan Thomas to BE the offense. Their first three series were a joke until Thomas finally started running the ball himself and moving the offense. They scored 21 pts in the 2nd quarter and went on to win. The defense pitched a shut-out but they gave up 266 yards to a team that would go on to lose to such notables as Kent State and San Jose State.

Watching this game against Western Carolina, yes the offense got started a little slowly, but when it began to work it was because the entire offense was coming together. The passing game started to click, the running game began to emerge and the defense was absolutely smothering. The only reason Western Carolina got 3 points was because of a missed catch interference call while Kyshoen Jarrett was fielding a punt on his 10 yd-line. The ball bounced off his foot, WCU recovered and the Hokies held them to a field goal. The remainder of the game, the defense was simply dominant in every facet.

The key to this offensive unit playing more competently (I'm not ready to call it a resurgence yet, until they do it consistently against better competition) has clearly been the offensive line. The Hokies gave up no sacks on Saturday and were clearing running lanes for all of the backs. And this without their best player - RG Andrew Miller who came out of the lineup with an ankle in the first quarter.

The other major difference between this game and the game against Bowling Green is that the Hokie coaches were rotating in dozens of different players throughout the entire game! There was no hesitation to play true freshman Kalvin Kline at TE, and he delivered with 4 receptions. The Hokies freely rotated in defensive linemen and receivers to keep the players fresh and give lots of young players plenty of reps. And it paid off with big plays by Willie Byrn, Nigel Williams and of course, I'm sure you didn't expect to read a review of the game and not hear about RB Chris Mangus.

Yours truly has been scratching his head about Mangus since the spring. Mangus redshirted in 2012, the Hokies lost Michael Holmes to dismissal this year and I figured Mangus would be in the mix at RB. I was asking our source in the program and all sportswriters why there was no mention of Mangus. Even before the Alabama game with Coleman out and Caleb suspended, the coaches seemed to suggest that they would play Mangus reluctantly, because they had no choice. Was it blitz pickup, ball security issues, what exactly was the reason he wasn't being given a vote of confidence?

I knew it wasn't his ability to run the ball as he was TSF's #1 underrated recruit in the 2012 class. And after running tough at the end of the Bama game last weekend, Mangus got a chance to show that element on Saturday to the rest of Hokie Nation as he took a pitch, broke a tackle on the way to the edge and then beat 3 players with an angle to take it to the house for a 76 yd score. Mangus needs to figure in to the Hokie offense. He is the kind of big play threat that the Hokies didn't have last season. Whether he's in the slot, in a 2 back set with Edmunds or Coleman, or what, Coach Loefler needs to find a way to work Mangus in to the offense.

Speaking of Edmunds, he demonstrated that the first game vs. Alabama wasn't a fluke. No, he didn't rush for over 100 yards, but he averaged 4.5 yds/carry and ran with toughness and elusiveness. I didn't see a single called run for Logan Thomas in the game. I'm sure there will be plenty of read-option as the season progresses, but not on Saturday. Thomas made some crisp throws with great accuracy and velocity. However, he also had two interceptions, though one of them was not his fault. The first interception was a "make-a-play" ball that QB's give to their #1 receivers on any given Saturday. I saw dozens of those plays in other games last weekend (watch Teddy Bridgewater's TD pass to the end zone in the Louisville game as a perfect example). Thomas threw the ball in a 1-on-1 situation with Knowles and WCU DB Trey Morgan. Knowles is either supposed to catch the ball, or knock it down. He did neither.

The second INT was also a ball thrown to Knowles, but it was a worse pass and an easier interception. Knowles has speed but he looks like a guy without a lot of wide receiver play in his background, which is, in fact, the case. He needs to develop his ball skills in order to become a true additional threat in this offense. We'll see what Coach Moorehead is all about in his ability to develop these receivers. Catching was better on Saturday but there were still 4 dropped balls which is 4 too many.

If Andrew Miller's ankle is ok and WR Charley Meyer fully recovers from his hamstring injuries and is capable of making the types of catches and plays that we heard about all summer, this offense can take another step forward against ECU on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Hokie defense will face a much higher talent level challenge than they did against WCU and it will be on the road to boot. As always, we'll learn more about the Hokies next week, and I hope I get to watch the game again.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Game Review - VT vs. Alabama

I thought the strangest I would EVER feel after a Hokie loss was the the Pittsburgh game from 2012. It was the first one where I implemented my gameplan of recording the game but only watching it if the Hokies won. And when I saw that they had lost, I deleted the game from the DVR and felt the most bittersweet emotion I can imagine. Bitter because I couldn't believe I was going to NOT watch or attend a Virginia Tech football game for the first time in 20 years and sweet because I knew that my blood pressure, my stomach ulcer and my unbroken household goods were all the beneficiary of the decision to not watch.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Game Preview - VT vs. Alabama

Last season was a strange time for me. It was the first season I didn't watch (either live, on the Internet, TV or in person) every Virginia Tech football game in 20 years. I've already outlined why I chose to do that, with the straw that broke the camel's back being the catch that they robbed from Danny Coale in the 2012 Sugar Bowl. As a result I only watched the Hokie wins last season and thank God for that, because if I hadn't made that decision I can only imagine how beyond miserable my life would have been.

Speaking of miserable, that's what the Hokie's chances look like going up against the two-time defending national champion, semi-pro Alabama Crimson Tide in the kickoff game on Saturday. Thirty-one Hokies on the travel roster are true or redshirt freshmen. At least seven projected players from the two-deep headed into the spring have either left the team voluntarily or non-voluntarily or are injured and out/questionable for the game. Now if you want details about who's in or out, what the spread is, what Nick Saban eats for breakfast or countless other factoids about the game, there are limitless places to find that on the 'Net. But you're here to see an off-the-wall look at the upcoming game so here we go:

Ok, so the odds haven't looked this bad since 300 Spartans stood at Thermopylae against the countless hordes of Persians. But I think there are two angles that I think people are overlooking. First of all, it may play out like people expect and the Hokies lose the game, but just as those Spartans eventually lost to the Persians, in their valiant effort they inspired a larger victory in the broader war and the Greeks did expel the Persians from their lands. The Hokies, if they rise to this occasion and play well, it could absolutely serve as the catalyst to bring the team together and contend for an ACC title in 2013.

Second of all, the Hokies could actually win the game. Let's be honest, the talent gap favors 'Bama, that much is clear. But it's not like the talent gap between Michigan and Appalachian State in the Wolverines stunning loss in 2007. And that game was played in Ann Arbor. It's not like the talent gap between Jacksonville State and Ole Miss back in 2010 when the Rebs lost, also at home. This is a neutral site game and though the Tide have the advantage in a few areas, the Hokies are fielding what has the potential to be the best defense since the '07 ACC Championship season.

And the first game of the season is a wildcard to begin with. The players may or may have not fully picked up the scheme. A blown coverage here, a missed assignment there and a few gamechanging plays could also go VT's way. Of course, the Hokies are also susceptible to these types of mistakes, I'm just saying we won't know which way that cookie crumbles until after kickoff.

And the biggest reason I feel like the Hokies have a chance in this game is because of how much sits on Alabama's shoulders. They come in the prohibitive favorite, the team attempting to go for a three-peat national title which would be the first time since the 1940's that would have happened. If the Hokies keep the game close, suddenly the pressure rises. Doubt can begin to creep into the Alabama players' minds. The image that is burned indelibly in my mind is AJ McCarron after that LSU game when they went on their game winning drive late last season, sitting on the sidelines in absolute tears of relief. So much is piled on this team's shoulders, it could lead to playing tight. The Hokies on the other hand are in the position they've always excelled in - a chip on their shoulder with everyone betting against them. It's what Coach Beamer built the program on back in the Big East days. You can almost hear and see Rodney Dangerfield on this team, adjusting his tie talking about "I don't get no respect".

Of course, the Tide do still have a defense filled with future NFL draft picks and two studs at RB and WR in TJ Yeldon and Amari Cooper, with a senior QB in McCarron. And Nick Saban is obviously one of the best, if not the best coach in the business. Besides, I'm not even watching the game live, or on delay if the Hokies lose. So the Hokies will be down one loud screaming voice supporting them.

And so knowing that's the place I'm at as a fan now, and facing a nearly unbeatable opponent to kick off the new season, with half a dozen key players either having left the Hokies or sitting out injured and 31 freshmen on the travel squad, I can understand someone wondering what the hell business do I have being so incredibly excited about Saturday's game in the Georgia Dome vs. Alabama?

The answer: I'm still stone cold crazy. I may have found a more successful way to address my illness by only watching Hokie wins in order to save my TV, my household furniture and my children's view of their father, but just like every other year the sleepless nights have started this week and that pit is forming in the very bottom of my stomach. Virginia Tech football is about to take the field again and while I'll only know if I'll be watching the game Saturday night after it's over, you can be 100% certain of this fact - if the Hokies win, I'll watch the game twice back-to-back staying up however late that night it takes.

As always (and for the first time in 2013) - GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The 2013 Recruiting Smacktacular

The Year of "2012 - The Sequel"

The Class of 2012 had some excellent skill position players, some of whom were ready to take the field last season, others who show great promise for the future. There were even a few prospects at defensive end. But it was lacking in any sort of depth for those warriors in the heart of the trenches- the "Big Uglies" as the legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson used to call them.

The Class of 2013 if anything, exhibits even greater talent away from the line of scrimmage, than the 2012 Class did. And there are some Class of "2012" members who actually count in the Class of 2013. If you want to see the profiles of Seth Dooley, Woody Baron or Jerome Wright, please see our 2012 Recruiting Smacktacular.

However, despite better talent in the four offensive line prospects that come into this class than 2012, the Hokies yet again fall miserably short in getting bigtime offensive line prospects, or even enough prospects into the class. My Calm and Beloved Reader, you have to look no further than LAST SEASON to see what happens when a team doesn't have a full complement of high quality offensive linemen at their disposal. Despite strong play from Nic Becton and Vinston Painter at tackle in their one-on-one battles with ends (at least in the games I watched), the interior of the line was a mishmash of garbage, never playing with any drive off the ball or any consistency, as various players came into and out of the lineup. The results speak for themselves.

Having said that, after spending the past several weeks going over interviews, game film and comments from high school coaches and teammates, I will admit that I am excited about the overall quality of the class. The Hokies can do battle with programs from around the country to land talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And there appear to be very few bad apples in this class as well, which bodes well for continued team chemistry. These players are consistently mentioned for being the type of hard-working, team-first players that the Hokies have built their program on and that I'm proud to see represent Virginia Tech. Having said all of that, this is called the Year of 2012 The Sequel because there still isn't enough "beef" to make the difference on the interior that is so obvious to me when I watch the top teams in the country. If you don't have at least one NFL 3rd round or better draft prospect on your offensive and defensive line every season, you're just not going to be able to compete at the top of college football in today's game.

Now, that was plenty of ado, so without much further ado, let's get into it. As always, check out our friends at Rivals for the full measureables on each prospect. But if you want to know who's going to be a stud and who's going to be an also-ran, continue on down the wormhole.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2012 Hokies Football - Mad Jay looks back

I started following Virginia Tech football the year I started attending there - 1993. When I chose the school, it was because of its reputation as a great engineering school and I had no idea the football program was in such a shambles, coming off of a 2-8-1 season. I attended every home game my freshman year, had great seats as a student, and saw the Hokies end up going 9-3, winning the Independence Bowl and starting a bowl streak that continues to today.

I was already a huge football fan, so it was easy to turn Hokie football into my religion. And for these past 20 years, I re-arranged my life around VT football games. Spent untold amounts on going to games, ordering them up on TV or the internet and watching them all. The last 10 years were spent watching the team beat its head against a wall because of ineptitude on the offensive coaching staff. In 2011, I finally saw a glimmer of hope on the offensive side of the ball, with Coach O'Cain doing a good job in his playcalling on gameday and Coach Stinespring completely removed from the booth. But that culminated in Coach Beamer throwing the Sugar Bowl away with several unbelievably bad decisions, and I knew that was the end of it for me. I wouldn't risk health nor home, life nor limb for Coach Beamer anymore. Watching Hokie wins was all I was capable of.

So in 2012, I only saw 7 of the Hokies' games. Now you can draw your own conclusions on if my following the team closely had any impact on their record, but either way, thank goodness I chose this course for 2012. The wins were so ugly, I shudder to imagine what the losses looked like. I know it would have done irreparable damage to my health to watch this entire season the way I had watched the previous 20. But since I didn't, I'm in no place to do a position group by position group breakdown of the team. I only saw just over half the games. But there are some observations that are pretty obvious to me, just from watching the wins, including the Rutgers game.

1) I think Coach Stinespring felt emasculated after the 2011 season. He was offensive coordinator in name only, and the only one in college football who didn't call the plays, if the head coach didn't have that duty (like CPJ at Georgia Tech for example). 

As a result, Coach Stiney was determined that 2012 would have his mark on it. So he went to several NFL teams and Texas in order to create some new mastermind hybrid/pistol offense. And not only that, with so many aspects of the offense being new, now he was "needed" in the booth again. The 2011 formula of Stinespring doing the rah-rah thing on the sidelines while O'Cain called the offense from the booth were gone. And from the look of the results on the field, it was an unmitigated disaster. 

The offense was uncomfortable in all aspects. Logan Thomas never looked in rhythm. The running game was a joke, with far too little Martin Scales and far too much shuffling of players for any of them to get into the flow of the game. The playcalling, particularly in the Russell Athletic Bowl, was desperate. If there was any play that even remotely worked, the Hokies would just call that exact same play a second time in a row. Grasping at straws is what it felt like and you could sense that there was conflict in the booth between Stinespring and O'Cain. I understand why Coach Stinespring wanted to change things up from 2011- the offense had success and he was only peripherally involved. What I don't understand is why Coach Beamer the Elder allowed this. 

2) Coach Foster hasn't lost a step. Having watched the final three games of the 2012 season, that looked every bit like a Hokie defense of old. People flying to the ball from all over the field, forcing turnovers and three and outs. The defense only allowed a 22% third down conversion rate, which would have been the best in the nation over the course of a season by more than 4%!! I think it is one of the strangest things that Coach Foster was never given a chance to be head coach of a good football program. He's everything I'd want as that coach if I were an AD.

3) This 2012-13 offseason is absolutely critical. Now that VT has danced so closely with missing a bowl, I think Coach Beamer recognizes how fragile it is. I don't think he wants to step down, but not even he can remain oblivious to the dramatic difference between the level of execution on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The difference has been there for years, but it was easy for Beamer to remain loyal to his friend Stinespring when the team was winning 10 games every year. The incompetence can be overlooked no more. And so the rumor mill swirls about what's going to happen. 

4) Here's what I think should happen - Coach Cav should step down and retire and Coach Stinespring takes that position as Director of Recruiting. Coach Sherman is gone to Purdue to coach receivers. Coach O'Cain and Coach Newsome should take the first job that comes along that they can land. In Newsome's case, a trip back to JMU makes a lot of sense, considering his recruiting ties to the area and the fact that he belongs coaching at that next level down anyway. This frees up a new offensive coordinator to come in and bring in a staff that knows his offense. And it keeps Stinespring in the program as a recruiter which he's good at. Plus he's not going to land a job anywhere else as a coach. This is what I see as a best case scenario and will create a lot of buzz going into the 2013 recruiting class and beyond.

5) Speaking of recruiting, we will have the annual recruiting class breakdown ready to go in early February. This class is shaping up to be yet another very talented class, headlined by the Army All-American Defensive Player of the Year - Kendall Fuller (younger brother of past Hokie Vinnie and current Hokie Kyle). But it also looks light on offensive linemen which would fly in the face of everything Coach Beamer should have learned going through the lean 2005-2008 years. But then again, the entire point of this post has been how Coach Beamer is in a kind of old dog/new tricks situation. How he handles the next 30-60 days will have far-reaching implications on his legacy and the future of Virginia Tech football.

I just hope I get to watch a lot more games next year.

GO HOKIES!!!!!!!!